As a higher-ed administrator, I am always in search of ways to develop students to have the highest moral character, but to also be cognitively aware of the world that they live in. A world of social media and all of its excesses. I currently serve as the Associate Dean for Student Affairs at an HBCU and recently had the opportunity to watch Netflix’s film ‘Burning Sands,’ a movie about black Greek-life and hazing.
The film clearly shines a light on a problem that we all know exist and needs conscious correcting. But what if you are a current member of an organization and experience conduct within the organization that is the opposite of what is reasonably considered brotherly, and sisterly in the land of Black Greekdom? What if Black Greek Unity is nothing more than perfunctory carried out by routine superficiality?
Over the course of last weekend and presently, that has been my reality. And because of it, I have lowered my personal expectations of Black Greekdom. But if I am the Student Affairs administrator that I claim to be, then I see my experience as an opportunity to empirically educate, develop and support our students.
I want to demonstrate to my students and to others that current citizenship in the land of Black Greekdom does not discharge you of potential pain and negativity. More importantly, I want to illustrate to our students that they are capable of creating an environment of civility coupled with Black Greek unity, where hazing and misconduct are not condoned, and survivors of incidents of abuse will be supported by the campus community.
On March 11, 2017, I told my best friend, who is also a member of a black Greek-letter fraternity that I wanted to give him a tour of the campus where I work. While on campus, we took various pictures beside the plaques and monuments of our designated organizations. I decided that I would perform a stroll, a signature move commonly associated with the fraternity of which I am a member of.
I intentionally posted the video to my Instagram account not to offend or harm the organization, but because I was proud to be a member. Within a matter of minutes, I received a direct message from a fellow member of my organization, but from a different chapter. I had never met this person, but he informed me that I should remove the video or that it could be re-posted on an account designated to humiliate people, and that he was just “looking out” for me.
I responded to this individual by thanking him for his “concern” but that the video would remain posted on my account. While his attempt might have been in good spirit, I couldn’t help but consider that his statements might have been intended as a form of intimidation.
By Sunday evening the video had been uploaded to various social media accounts designated for members of my organization, as well as sororities. The video was uploaded in an attempt to humiliate and delegitimize my membership. This was evident by the comments that were made by the owner of the account and their followers. What was critically disturbing was that the majority of the vitriolic comments about me were made by members of my very own organization; members who are supposed to be my brothers based upon the “bond” of the overall fraternity.
We have countless brothers and sisters who join our organizations, but refuse to associate with their respective organizations due to how they have been treated by those they call, “brothers or sisters.” I recently spoke with a woman who informed me that she has not had any contact with her organization for over 20 years, based upon how she had been treated by other members.
The psychological yearning to be accepted and perceived “made” was so strong on the end of those spearing comments that to assert and masquerade vitality to their membership, they could not resist the urge to vilify me in the process. And this declaration is also true for those who watched, viewed and knew what was being done, yet still remained silent out of fear of retaliation. It is undeniable how this yearning for acceptance can be so coercive, but should also be rejected and prohibited in all respects.
Dating back to the twentieth century, the original intent of Black Greek-Letter organizations’ was to unite college students dedicated to unspeakable triumph, and fostering a kinship unparalleled in an environment where you truly had no choice but to be your “brother’s/sister’s keeper.” I recall Kappa League members coming to my elementary school and teaching me how to read and write. It was these notions that planted and nurtured the seed inside of me to become a member of this organization.
Even in my infant stages of membership, I loved the mission and objectives of my fraternity. I love the contributions and the work that they perform to assist society. Most of all, I am honored that I was granted membership into this sacred bond. If I thought for one moment that my actions would cause embarrassment and disgrace to the organization, I certainly would not have acted in furtherance of it.
But they were just words, right? No one physically harmed me. However, candor would oblige me to be honest about my humanity. Words hurt because words are things, and these things hurt me. Maya Angelou opines that we must measure the power of words and be careful about the words that we use against one another. We must be conscientious in resisting the urge to be Keyboard Gangsters, operating under a false sense of hubris.
Brotherhood and sisterhood cannot be taught in the Silo mentality and in lip service. It must be clearly articulated with care and compassion for one another. Brotherhood/sisterhood and Black Greek Unity must leap off the papers and projectors to find its home in the hearts of ALL members, regardless of our perceptions relative to their being “made” or if they stroll to our standards.
In Psalms, David exhorts us all to dwell together in unity! I believe that we will all be called upon to deliver on the question: For what are we “made” and how does that look in a community designed to unite us all?
Regardless of what organization we find ourselves in, we all want to be treated with dignity and respect. “It’s one thing when others disrespect our people but it’s doubly offensive when we do it to ourselves.”
Daryl Lowe, J.D.